Ben Tate seems intent on making friends in Cleveland. Since his deal with the Cleveland Browns got close he’s taken to social media to ingratiate himself to the Browns faithful. It’s pandering, but in Cleveland it’s much appreciated by the fans. It’s a strategy for a player that works just fine, but I hope Tate realizes that it eventually has to be backed up with actual play on the field. For the Browns, signing Ben Tate is a good move, but it isn’t without risks. No, the two-year commitment and estimated $7 million aren’t a problem at all, at least not in theory. The problems arise if Tate isn’t able to become the featured back the Browns so desperately need.
Signing a player isn’t always about the salary. Every player on the roster — regardless of the salary cap value — represents an opportunity cost to the organization. When the Browns chose Ben Tate over the weekend, that meant they chose him over someone else. In previous seasons when the Browns chose Montario Hardesty, they did so at the expense of another player. I don’t want to compare Ben Tate to Montario Hardesty, but Browns fans’ lessons are instructive: When Hardesty showed flashes of ability or flashes of “Spins McGee” it represented lots of waste. It was a waste of hope; it was a waste of attempted continuity. Even if the money wasn’t detrimental to the Browns, by wasting reps on a failed second-round pick, the Browns were also wasting reps on their franchise left tackle Joe Thomas, not to mention a weary fan base.
While it’s nice that the Browns have only committed a small amount of money to the Ben Tate experiment, it’s still scary to see his injury history, including missing two games in 2013. It’s not terrifying of course, but still something worth noting. Hopefully Ray Farmer doesn’t stop at Ben Tate. The Browns have Tate, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and ten draft picks in order to help mitigate the risk of having as pitiful a running attack as what the team showed in 2013.
I don’t mean to be such a downer with what appears to be a good signing by the Browns. I love the energy and attitude that Ben Tate is bringing already. I’m hopeful that this compact, thick, powerful runner can step outside the shadows of Arian Foster behind a Kyle Shanahan zone blocking scheme and prove to be all the running back Browns fans wanted Trent Richardson to be. It really is a great bet by Ray Farmer and Ben Tate to come together in Cleveland for this deal.
But, as someone who has followed the Browns as closely as anyone since 1999, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least suggest that the Browns need to never be satisfied even in the face of what appears to be a decent solution. Here’s hoping they become one of those NFL teams that finds running backs emerging from every corner of this off-season.